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In Honor of the Forthcoming Barclays Center Card, We Pay Tribute To Brooklyn’s Rich Boxing Heritage

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WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder opposes Artur Szpilka in the main event of the January 16 boxing show at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. In the main supporting bout, Charles Martin meets Vyachelov Glazkov for the IBF heavyweight belt vacated by Tyson Fury.

The 19,000-seat Barclays Center, Brooklyn’s instant monument, opened in September of 2012. It has housed 15 boxing shows, but the Jan. 16 event will be the first in which heavyweights get top billing. As co-promoter Lou DiBella notes, 115 years have elapsed since the last heavyweight title fight in Brooklyn.

That’s an awfully long time considering Brooklyn’s rich boxing heritage.

During the late nineteenth century when boxing was transitioning from the bare-knuckle to the gloved era, few fighters were as lionized as Jack Dempsey (the original Jack Dempsey) and Jack McAuliffe. Dempsey was active from 1883 to 1895. In his prime he was considered peerless, hence his nickname “Nonpareil.” McAuliffe, dubbed the Napoleon of the Prize Ring, competed from 1885 to 1897. He retired undefeated.

Born 39 months apart in Ireland, Dempsey and McAuliffe were young children when they settled with their parents in Brooklyn. Lore has it that for a time they were co-workers in a Williamsburg barrel manufacturing plant.

Nonpareil Jack Dempsey had his last fight at Coney Island. For a time, the seaside community at the southern tip of Brooklyn rivaled New Orleans and San Francisco as the leading destination for prizefights of international importance.

Coney Island hadn’t yet morphed into a family amusement center. Home to three important racetracks, Coney Island after dark mirrored New York City’s infamous Bowery, a place identified with low-brow entertainment. It was a natural locale for prizefighting, a sport widely condemned as immoral.

The highlights of the Coney Island epoch were the three fights involving James J. Jeffries. On June 9, 1899, Jeffries wrested the heavyweight crown from the head of Bob Fitzsimmons with an 11th round stoppage. Later that year he repelled the challenge of Sailor Tom Sharkey. On May 11, 1900, he conquered James J. Corbett, stopping the former champion in the 23rd round.

The Jeffries-Sharkey sockfest was a doozy. For many years this bout, a 25-round affair, was considered the most brutal heavyweight title fight. There were no judges in those days. If a fight went the distance, the referee merely raised the hand of the fighter that he thought had the best of it. There was no protest when referee George Siler raised the hand of Jeffries, but the stout-hearted Sharkey cemented his reputation as one rough customer.

Boxing was resurrected in Coney Island during the 1920s. One of the more noteworthy cards staged at Coney Island Stadium was held on May 25, 1926. It featured Ruby Goldstein, an 18-year-old knockout artist from Manhattan’s Lower East Side (and later a prominent referee). Goldstein, who had acquired an avid following, was pitted against Ace Hudkins, the Nebraska Wildcat.

Hudkins wasn’t much older than Goldstein, but he was considerably more seasoned. He would saddle young Ruby with his first defeat, knocking him out in the fourth round.

Rising featherweight contender Tony Canzoneri also appeared on that card. Born in Slidell, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, Canzoneri had most of his early pro fights in Brooklyn and adopted the borough as his home. He went on to win the New York version of the world featherweight title and the world lightweight title.

The career of Canzoneri, a future Hall of Famer, provides a window into a bygone era, an era when Brooklyn was awash in neighborhood fight clubs and the best boxers, with few exceptions, had dozens of undercard fights on their ledgers before they succeeded in landing a main event.

Canzoneri had his first pro fight in July of 1925. Over the next 25 months, he fought 48 times. Twenty-four of those fights were in Brooklyn; seven in the neighboring borough of Queens.

In Brooklyn, Canzoneri fought at Ridgewood Grove (a facility that straddled the Brooklyn-Queens border), the Broadway Arena, the Fort Hamilton Arena, Coney Island Stadium, Canarsie Stadium, and Ebbets Field.

Boxing at Ebbets Field never reached the heights that it did in the big baseball parks across the river in the Bronx, but the hallowed home of the Dodgers had a few moments in the sun. Former middleweight champion Mickey Walker, outweighed by almost 30 pounds, battled Jack Sharkey to a 15-round draw on July 22, 1931. Later that year, a crowd estimated at 30,000 (an impressive turnout considering the economic climate) watched Sharkey outpoint Primo Carnera in a bout billed for the American heavyweight title.

Of the aforementioned boxing arenas, the Broadway Arena, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, and Ridgewood Grove were the busiest. The Broadway, which could trace its lineage as a home for boxing to 1914, was the top fight club in the metropolitan area during the 1930s and 1940s. It likely hosted more than a thousand shows before it shut down in 1951. Researchers have documented 1,229 boxing shows at Ridgewood Grove from 1920 to 1954.

These clubs, run on shoestring budgets, were nurseries for fighters on the way up and ATM machines, of a sort, for journeymen and fighters on the way down. Few fighters seized the imagination of the public on the way up like Rocky Graziano. His career, like so many boxers, paralleled that of Tony Canzoneri, albeit the Brooklyn phase of Graziano’s career was shorter. He debuted at the Broadway Arena, the first of his 14 fights in Brooklyn.

The Eastern Parkway Arena was a late addition to the Brooklyn boxing scene. The converted roller rink at 1435 Eastern Parkway hosted a weekly Monday Night show that ran on the Dumont network from May 19, 1952 to May 16, 1955.

Carl “Bobo” Olson, from Honolulu by way of San Francisco, and Gene Fullmer, from West Jordan, Utah, had their first New York exposures at Eastern Parkway. Matchmaker Teddy Brenner, who served in the same capacity at Madison Square Garden, was testing them to see if they were worthy of fighting on a larger stage. Indeed they were, especially Fullmer, who engaged Sugar Ray Robinson in a robust four-fight series.

The most famous alumnus of this venue was Floyd Patterson. Eleven of his first 16 pro fights were at Eastern Parkway Arena. In 1956, the Brooklyn-based Patterson became the youngest man to win the heavyweight title, a distinction he held for 30 years.

The Eastern Parkway Arena was in the Brownsville section, a fertile pod of fistic talent. During the first half of the 20th century, Brownsville boxers were disproportionately Jewish. As the neighborhood changed, so also did the pigmentation of her boxers. Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad did more than uphold Brownsville’s boxing legacy; they took it to a new level.

Mike Tyson never fought in Brooklyn; Riddick Bowe only once after turning pro, an early bout at Gleason’s Gym that was little more than a public workout. Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, born Edward Gregory, never fought in Brooklyn either but had several engagements at Sunnyside Garden in Queens, a place that was a nursery for his former amateur rival, Brooklyn’s Vito Antuofermo. When Sunnyside Garden closed in 1977, the obit eulogized the cozy arena as the last of New York’s neighborhood fight clubs.

Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia met Tijuana’s Erik Morales in the main go of the inaugural boxing card at Barclays Center. The undercard was spiced with local fighters: Paulie Malignaggi, Daniel Jacobs, Luis Collazo, Peter Quillin, and Dmitriy Salita. In the wings, figuratively if not literally, were Tyson, Bowe, Mustafa Muhammad, Antuofermo, Shannon Briggs, Zab Judah, Mark Breland, Juan LaPorte, and Junior Jones.

They say that boxing is dead, a refrain that was heard even in the best of times. Then it blooms anew where it was previously dormant. Boxing in Brooklyn was ripe for a renaissance. Barclays Center arrived at a propitious time.

 

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Alexis Rocha KOs Brave but Overmatched George Ashie on DAZN.

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Golden Boy Promotions’ potted their first offering of 2023 at the recently opened YouTube Theater, a 6,000-seat venue situated inside the stadium built to house LA’s two NFL franchises. The main event was a scheduled 12-round welterweight match between Alexis Rocha, a southpaw from nearby Santa Ana and George Ashie, a 38-year-old Ghanaian making his U.S. debut. Ashie was a late substitute for Anthony Young who reportedly suffered a nose injury in training. The match and supporting bouts were live-streamed on DAZN.

Ashie, who was fighting above his normal weight class and carried a career-high 146 pounds, was brave but out-gunned. Rocha knocked him down in the third frame with a right hook and hurt him several more times as the fight progressed although Ashie never stopped trying. In round six, an accidental clash of heads left Rocha with a nasty cut on his left eyebrow. He fought with more urgency after this incident and knocked Ashie out cold in the next round. The official time was 2:08 of round seven.

It was the fifth straight win for Rocha who improved his ledger to 22-1 (14 KOs). After the bout, he expressed an interest in fighting Terence Crawford. Ashie fell to 33-6-1 (25).

Other Bouts of Note

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a precocious 20-year-old lightweight, had Albert Mercado on the canvas in the second round but was unable to put him away despite hurting him multiple times and went 10 rounds for the first time in his young career.

Schofield, the 2022 TSS Prospect of the Year, improved to 13-0 (11), winning 100-89 on all three cards. Mercado, a 35-year-old Connecticut-born Puerto Rican, declined to 17-5-1 but retained his distinction of having never stopped.

Super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist for Uzbekistan who lives and trains in Indio, California, overpowered San Diego’s Ulises Sierra who was on the deck twice from body punches before the fight was waived off at the 2:59 mark of round three. It was the fourth straight victory for Melikuziev (11-1, 9 KOs) after suffering a stunning one-punch knockout at the hands of seemingly shopworn Gabriel Rosado with whom he is pursuing a rematch. Sierra was 17-2-2 heading in with eight of his wins coming in Mexico.

In a match framed as a WBO minimumweight title eliminator, Oscar Collazo (6-0, 4 KOs) scored an impressive fifth-round stoppage of Yudel Reyes. Collazo knocked Reyes down twice in the fifth round, the second with a vicious right hand that put Reyes down so hard that the referee didn’t bother to count. The official time was 2:59 of round five.

In theory, Collazo’s next fight will come against the Filipino Melvin Jerusalem who won the title earlier this month with a second-round stoppage of Masataka Taniguchi in Osaka. Reyes, a 26-year-old Mexican making his U.S. debut, declined to 15-2.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Artur Beterbiev TKOs Anthony Yarde in a London Firefight

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The presumption, echoed by ESPN boxing commentator Bernardo Osuna, was that tonight’s bout at Wembley Arena in London between Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde would be explosive and entertaining for as long as it lasted. That proved to be true and when the smoke cleared, Beterbiev, the rugged Montreal-based Russian had retained his three light heavyweight title belts and had added another knockout to his ledger, his nineteenth as a pro in as many opportunities.

Both men landed hard shots during the fight and both were marked up at the finish. Yarde had a cut under his right eye and Beterbiev had a cut on his left eyelid.

A chopping right hand from Beterbiev late in the first minute of the eighth round marked the beginning of the end for Yarde, the muscular 31-year-old Londoner who entered the contest sporting a record of 23-2 with 22 knockouts. The punch sent him reeling backward toward his corner where he landed on his knees. He beat the count, but turned toward his corner rather than referee Steve Gray.

Gray let the bout continue, but Beterbiev pressed his advantage and after a few more unanswered punches Yarde’s trainer Tunde Ajayi stepped up on the ring apron and summoned Gray to stop it. The official time was 2:01 of round eight.

Beterbiev hasn’t lost since losing a decision to amateur nemesis Oleksandr Usyk in the quarter finals of the 2012 London Olympics. At age 38, he shows no signs of slowing down.

In his post-fight interview, the self-effacing Russian said, “I hope some day I will be a good boxer,” and acknowledged that he would welcome a unification fight with fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol, the WBA title-holder.

WBA Title Fight

In a bout that was in theory the co-feature but went off during the earlier portion of the ESPN+ livestream, Artem Dalakian (21-0, 15 KOs) retained his WBA world flyweight title with a unanimous and somewhat controversial 12-round unanimous decision over Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (12-1). The judges had it 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

An Azerbaijan-born Ukrainian, Dalakian was making the sixth defense of the title he won in 2018 with a 12-round decision over Brian Viloria in Los Angeles in his lone previous appearance at a venue in the English-speaking world. His five title defenses were in Kiev. Jimenez was coming off a 12-round majority decision over Ricardo Sandoval in what ranked as one of the bigger upsets of 2021.

A Split for the Itauma Brothers

Promoter Frank Warren’s newest signee, 18-year-old heavyweight Moses Itauma, made a big splash in his pro debut, blasting out Czechoslovakia’s Marcel Bode (2-2) in 23 seconds. Moses and his older brother Karol Itauma are sons of a British citizen of Nigerian ancestry and a Slovakian mother.

In a shocking upset, Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna, a 36-year-old Argentine who had lost six of his previous eight fights, forged a fifth-round stoppage of well-touted Karol Itauma who was 9-0 (7 KOs) as a pro coming in. Itauma ate numerous straight right hands before a straight right hand knocked him down for the count. The official time was 1:04 of round five. Maderna improved to 29-10 (11).

Also

The Frankham cousins, super welterweight Joshua and super featherweight Charles, improved their ledgers to 7-0 with 6-round shutouts over their respective opponents. The cousins are grandsons of John “Gypsy Johnny” Frankham, a former British light heavyweight champion.

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Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury on Feb. 26 in a Potential Pay-Per-View Blockbuster

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It’s now official. The twice-postponed “grudge match” between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury will come to fruition on Sunday, Feb. 26, at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An 8-rounder contested at a catch-weight of 185 pounds, the match and several supporting bouts will air in the U.S. on ESPN+ PPV at a cost of $49.99.

The hook for this promotion – a come-hither that will be hammered home incessantly in the coming weeks – is that Jake Paul will finally touch gloves with a legitimate professional boxer. Paul’s previous opponents were a fellow YouTube influencer (AnEsonGib), a retired NBA player (Nate Robinson), and three former MMA champions: Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, and Anderson Silva. He fought Woodley twice.

Tommy Fury, the half-brother of reigning WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, made his pro debut in December of 2018 in a four-round bout in his hometown of Manchester. He was two fights into his pro career when he became a contestant on the TV reality show “Love Island.” An enormously popular show in Great Britain, especially among the coveted 18-34 demographic, “Love Island” was in its fifth season.

Fury was paired with supermodel Molly-Mae Hague with whom he finished second. They developed a great chemistry, on and off the set, became engaged, and purportedly welcomed a baby girl this week.

What about Tommy Fury the boxer? How legitimate is he?

Fury’s record currently stands at 8-0 (4 KOs). His first opponent was a professional loser from Latvia whose current ledger reads 10-113-3. His next six opponents were a combined 4-73-2. Finally, in his last fight, which occurred in April of last year, he met an opponent with a good record, Poland’s Daniel Bocianski, who was 10-1. But look closer and one discovers that all but one of Bocianski’s 10 triumphs came against opponents with losing records. The exception was a 6-round decision over a fellow Pole whose record currently stands at 18-16-1 and who has been stopped 13 times.

Fury bloodied Bocianski and won a wide 6-round decision, but his performance was underwhelming. “Fury had the Hollywood teeth, tan, and diamante-colored shorts,” wrote Chasinga Malata of the London Sun, “leaving only his performance without sheen and sparkle.”

There is nothing in Tommy Fury’s background, aside from his biological pedigree, to suggest that he has the tools to become a world-class boxer. If he were a member of the Three Stooges, he would be Shemp.

Jake Paul, by contrast, may actually be legit. Those in the know that have watched him train have come away impressed. It says here that Paul isn’t moving up in class on Feb. 26; it’s the other way around.

In the co-feature, Ilunga Makabu (29-2, 25 KOs) will make the third defense of his WBC world cruiserweight title against Badou Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs). A Congolese-South African, Makabu is the older brother of heavyweight contender Martin Bakole. Jack, four years older than Makabu at age 39, formerly held world titles at 168 and 175 pounds.

Although Badou Jack was born in Sweden and keeps a home in Las Vegas where he has long been affiliated with the Mayweather Boxing Club, he will have the home field advantage in Saudi Arabia where he has cultivated a loyal following. A devout Muslim, Jack will be making his fourth straight start in the Persian Gulf Region. In his last outing, he outpointed Richard “Popeye” Rivera at Jeddah, winning a 10-round split decision.

Badou Jack

Badou Jack

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